Mean ministers

22nd August 2003 at 01:00
THERE is a blatant injustice at the heart of the Scottish Executive's drive to recruit more teachers. Ministers, teacher trainers, local authorities and the General Teaching Council for Scotland want more adults with experience of the real world to opt for a career in the classroom and increasingly view the part-time route over two years as the ideal way to balance family, work and training commitments. With large tracts of rural Scotland finding major difficulties in recruiting staff, it becomes even more essential that obstacles to participation are removed. Student funding is one barrier.

It is simply not acceptable for full-time students on one-year teacher training courses to have their tuition fees paid and be eligible for other financial support when part-timers have to pay up to pound;1,200 over two years and have no access to grants, loans and bursaries. These mature students are making enough sacrifices to pursue their careers without being burdened by further financial penalties. No one can explain to them why they are being victimised. They are told it is just the system for part-timers in higher and further education. The advice seems to be to pay up and get on with it.

This is unfair, unsatisfactory and unlikely to promote future recruitment to an expanding number of part-time courses. It is welcome news that Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, has asked officials to look into what is a serious anomaly. What he comes up with will be watched closely.

Universities are pressing for fair treatment for part-time students but say their hands are tied by the regulations from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council. It replies that it is up to universities.

Mr Peacock needs to sort out this mess. We are not talking about vast sums to support part-time students on teacher training courses and he should set no precedent by extending the fees exemption to them. In the end, the cash flows from the Executive's budget.

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